Viva Señor Santo Niño

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ALL over the country today Catholic faithful—and even some Philippine Independent Catholic Church (Aglipayan) faithful, such as those in Pandacan —vigorously celebrate their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, presented for adoration in the image of the miraculous Holy Child.

The most rousing—impressive to foreign tourists, some of whom are pilgrims—to the soul of faithful celebrants is that of Cebu. Participants in the religious part of the Cebu Sinulog celebration almost to a man (and woman) when asked attest to the deepening of their love for God and their determination to keep their vows of piety and changing themselves to a higher quality of Christian person.

The Santo Niño image of Cebu is believed to be a source of many miracles.

It is the oldest religious image in our country. Made of wood, it was sculpted, carved, by Flemish artisans. The image was one of the religious statues Ferdinand Magellan (who was a devout Catholic) brought with him in his monumental journey to our islands in 1521.


One of this great man’s feats (which he of course achieved with the help of the clergymen in his crew) was the baptism of the Cebuano King, or chieftain, Humabon, his wife and 500 of their relatives and people.  Magellan gave the Santo Niño image to Humabon’s wife as a baptismal gift. She was christened with the name Juana—which is why historical writings, including that of Magellan’s secretary and historian, Miguel Pigaefetta, refer to her as Queen Juana.

Magellan’s ships and men departed after the death of the illustrious captain in the Battle of Mactan, where Magellan was either speared or clubbed with a rice pestle to death by King (or chieftain) Lapulapu.

In 1565, or 44 years later, the part of Cebu, which was Humabon’s and Juana’s kingdom, was destroyed by fire.  Another batch of colonizing Spaniards, those in Legazpi’s expedition, found Cebu hostile, instead of friendly to them. Humabon had apparently been deposed and the baptized Cebuanos had for the most part turned their backs on the new religion Magellan had brought to them. They had also decided to go against the treaty King Humabon had entered into with Magellan that placed Cebu under Spanish suzerainty.  It was the Spaniards who set fire on the houses of Cebu in process of conquering Humabon’s kingdom.

The miracle of the Santo Niño is that in one of the razed houses, a Spanish soldier found the image of the Child Jesus unburned and undamaged.

Generations of Cebuanos have, since the establishment of Spanish power on their island, made, with Church approval, the Santo Niño their patron saint.

Through the centuries, the adoration of the Child Jesus has spread throughout the land.

The Santo Niño is very much associated with the celebration of the Christianization of the Philippines.

The Feast of the Santo Niño is the occasion of such grand touristic spectacle—and month-long January festivities as the Sinulog in Cebu as well as the Ati-Atihan in Panay and the Binirayan, Dinagyang, etc. in other parts of our country.

In Manila today there will be the grand Lakbayaw in Tondo, the Buling-Buling in Pandacan, the Pajotan de Sto. Nino in Caloocan and the Bambino Festival in Pasig.
The spiritual side of the feast of the Holy Child is obviously lost in all the so garish display of transgender beauties in some of these festivities.

But the Church has held on the true significance of the feastday.

Something that is an “only in the Philippines” phenomenon is the transformation of the Santo Niño image from the Infant King and God to the doctor, nurse, policeman, postman, and what have you.

It’s a charming and commendable practice for people of the various professional occupations and trades to look up to Jesus as their sovereign.

I can only pray that, for instance, those who have created the Holy Child Jesus Policeman are not petitioning for larger amounts of kotong instead of asking for the grace of conversion into a cop that is a model of virtues.

The Department of Tourism list of Santo Nino fiestas in January includes the Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, Makato Sto. Nino in Poblacion Makato, and Altavas Sto. Nino in Poblacion Altavas in Aklan; the Dinagyang in Iloilo City, the Binanog in Lambunao, and the Hinirugyaw in Calinog, in Iloilo; the Sinulog in Kabankalan City, the Ibajay Ati-Ati, and the Dinagsa Ati-Atihan in Cadiz City in Negros Occidental; the Kahimunan Festival in Libertad, Butuan City; the Sto. Nino Festival in Malolos, Bulacan; and the Lakbayaw in Tondo, Manila.

In Pasay, the annual Santo Nino grand procession, organized by the Congregacion del Santisima Nombre del Nino Jesus, will have its 40th anniversary next week.
A hundred beautifully regally clothed images of the Child Jesus, each mounted on carrozas, will be in procession along Roxas Boulevard.

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7 Comments

  1. joebert banderas on

    the true church in the bible name is Church of God 1 corinth 1:1, catholic church a disguise of christianity cannot be found in the bible also their teachings is against the bible

  2. joebert banderas on

    Jesus never preach in the bible to worship graven images also his apostles infact tinitira nila ang mga dyosdyosan sa Roma 1:18.ang sto nino dyosdyosan rin yan ginawa ng kamay ng tao

  3. For most of the encounter with Jesus in the bible, each person is transformed, changed, renewed, or healed. Those that were not, they were not seeking Jesus. They were there to trap him, spy on him, or looking for confirmation of his own personal agenda. The best example is Judas.
    Indeed we cannot get into the intention of each person. That is between him and God. That is off limit. If there is a genuine encounter, changes in behaviour will be evident. That is why I ask that question. A decrease in criminality or corruption will support that. Did these people go to seek Jesus? If they did, expect transformation in their lives. Thank you Mr. Bas for personally acknowledging my comment.

  4. According to Don Antonio Pigafetta and Francisco Albo who were with Magellan and both survived the 3-year circumnavigation of the globe and both made daily logs of the voyage, a curved image of the Madonna and child was presented to Datu Humabon’s favorite wife when she was christened and given the name Dona Johanna, the namesake of Spain’s demented queen mother. Here, Datu Humabon who was christened Don Carlos outsmarted King Henry VIII when Padre Valderrama relented to Magellan’s appeal and overlooked the rajah’s little quirk, having 40 wives, and christened all of them too.

    After Magellan was killed, Datu Humabon and the other Christianized chieftains and their followers reverted back to paganism. As one member of the Magellan’s armada crews replied when asked why the Visayan people turned against them: “Violation of the women was the main trouble.” After the memorial service for Magellan, the armada’s prurient seamen, insensitive to their loss, continued to wear out their welcome by impregnating Filipino females.

  5. Mr. Bas, the question to ask is, from the spiritual perspective, does the display of religiosity transform the lives of people? Does it curb corruption and criminality? Ostentatious worship is more for the benefit of an audience than the Audience of One.

    • Thanks or your comment, Reader Findelty. From the spiritual perspective, we cannot see how much converted–turned for the better–these devotees become after participating in the Santo Nino processions. Have the thieves among them vowed to steal less and return the money they have stolen in the past? Has an incestuous father or uncle repented and stopped molesting his own child or niece? Had a wife-beater turned into a better husband? How many millions of personal sins are no longer being committed because a Catholic has become a devotee to the Santo Nino? Only God knows.
      On the matter of corruption and criminality–social sins, in other words–I agree with you: It’s a question that should be asked in a discreet research project.
      Here are some paragraphs from Rev. Fr. Roy Cimagala’s Candidly Speaking about “Deepening Popular Piety” that has the Sinulog as a starting point:

      “I CONSIDER it a great blessing that in our country we still enjoy a tremendous amount of popular piety. This January, for example, we have the celebration in many places of the feast of the Sto. Niño that draws a lot of crowd in a mode that unmistakably is very moving, to say the least.

      “Visit Cebu City during these days of the Sto. Niño and you will know what I mean. The sight is simply heart-melting, exhilarating. Prayers and piety are expressed in large processions, novenas, Masses, dances, and the whole range of festivities, both religious and secular.

      “While there are many warts and imperfections that accompany these activities, it’s undeniable that the mysterious character of faith and devotion is very palpable, and tends to be contagious.

      “It’s good that we take this occasion to find out how we can improve the tenor of such celebration, for definitely improvement and development there should be in this area also. We cannot be naïve to think that things will just go well by some invisible forces without our due part.

      Especially these days when the all-too-worldly manners of celebrating are getting more and more prominent, we need to practice prudence and the appropriate, if not Spirit-inspired, creativity to bring this popular piety to its proper objective.

      It is not to curb spontaneous expressions of piety and religious sentiments, but rather to purify them and channel them along proper paths. We have to be wary, for example, of superstitions that can easily mimic and distort piety. And superstitions and questionable pious practices, there are many!”